Vivacious Ada lives in West Berlin. Her life isn’t easy by any means, but at least she is free to live it as she pleases. Ada is in love with Stefan, who also lives in Berlin, not so far from Ada. But they might as well be thousands of miles apart, because Stefan lives beyond the Wall, in East Berlin. Residents of East Berlin cannot leave. Like prisoners, they risk death if they try to go over the Wall. It sounds like the plot of a fictional dystopian world, but it is not.
Although the communist Soviet Union had allied itself with capitalistic nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and France during World War II, it emerged as an inimical force in determining Germany’s post-war fate. Germany was divided into sectors, with each of the Allied Powers governing one sector. The portion of Germany under Soviet rule became known as East Germany, and was developed into a Soviet satellite. Everything, from the home East Germans could life in to the jobs they could work, was determined by the government.
The capital city of Berlin happened to be in East Germany. Again, the victorious nations divided Berlin itself into sectors, with easternmost area under the rule of the Soviets. In 1961, the East German government began constructing a wall around its sector, allegedly because the West German government was a corruptive influence. In truth, it was to contain the thousands of East Berliners who were fleeing the constrictive Soviet government.
Once the Wall was built, it was guarded as Stefan and Ada describe. You could be shot and killed for trying to cross into West Berlin.
In the book, Ada falls into a fevered state, and while she is ill she hears the song 99 Luftballons by a German band called Nena. The presence of this song in the story is telling. Balloons sent into the air are perceived as a military threat, resulting in a war that destroys civilization.
-Diane Colson, currently reading This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready